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Graduate School Handbook: Information Primarily for Programs

Graduate School Handbook hompage

Admissions
     The Goal
     Admission Committees
     Recruiting
     Limits on Recruiting
     Applications
         Privacy of Applications
         Early Matriculants
Advisors and Advising
     Selection of Advisor/Mentor
     First-Year Advising
     Student Records
     Sample Letters Reporting Student Status
          Satisfactory
          Warning
          Final Warning Prior to Termination
          Termination
Changes to the Curriculum
      New or Revised Graduate Programs
      New Graduate Courses
          Guidelines for New Course Syllabi
               Recommendations for Constructing a Syllabus
               Minimum Required Syllabus Elements
Financial Support for Doctoral Students
      The 5-Year Support Guarantee
      Programmatic Support Allocation
      Admissions Targets and Support for Continuing Students
      Tuition Charges to Grants and Contracts
Commencement
      Prizes and Awards
          The Wilson-DeBlois Award
          Horace Mann Medal

Admissions

The Goal

Graduate students make important contributions to the University, including but not limited to, the discovery and preservation of knowledge, participating in faculty research, communicating research outcomes, and supporting undergraduate instruction. The overarching goal of the recruitment efforts of the Graduate School at Brown is to attract the best students to our graduate programs. Through the recruitment and selection of students who have academic potential, creativity, diversity of background, perspective, and experience, the Graduate School takes the first step in helping to develop competitive scholars who will graduate from Brown to play leading roles in the future, both domestically and internationally.

Admission Committees

It is the prerogative of programs to determine the make-up and functioning of their own admission committees. If programs so desire, students in the program may serve on an admissions committee in an advising role. However, students should not be allowed a voting position in admissions decisions.[i]

Recruiting

Recruitment is a comprehensive effort that involves:

  1. Promoting awareness of the institution and its graduate program(s) to produce a competitive applicant pool,
  2. Selecting appropriate applicants to achieve a diverse pool of admitted candidates, and
  3. Securing the matriculation of accepted candidates for an incoming graduate cohort.

The Graduate School is engaged in activities at each stage of recruitment and encourages partnership with every program in ways that lead to the recruitment and enrollment of the most promising students.

Awareness strategies provide accurate information about graduate programs at Brown. Given that top students can come from various institutions both nationally and internationally, information should be readily accessible and disseminated widely.

Recruitment strategies assist in the identification of the appropriately prepared and diverse students who comprise a high-quality applicant pool. Professional societies, research consortia, graduate preparation institutes, and federally-sponsored undergraduate honors programs present recruitment opportunities to increase diversity among underrepresented students in specific disciplines.

Yield strategies increase the matriculation of students who have been offered acceptance by the Graduate School. These activities are a vital part of students’ understanding of the specifics of the disciplinary training and encourage them to choose Brown as their academic home for growth into professionals and scholars.

Our recruitment plan is consistent with the Diversity Action Plan of Brown University, and is in keeping with the overarching goal of the Graduate School to attract the best possible students to our graduate programs and provide them with competitive levels of support.

One of the most effective recruiting techniques is personal contact with faculty. Within the limits of recruiting discussed below, it is permissible for the DGS or any faculty member to phone or write an applicant whose application seems particularly attractive, or whose interests seems particularly suited to Brown’s program, or to gather more information on the applicant’s interests.

Departments may wish to copy parts of the applications of top applicants, to start a departmental file on each matriculating student and to retain information about the students’ academic background and goals for the purpose of recruitment and later academic advising. Letters of recommendation, however, are not to be copied; they are meant for admission purposes only and are usually written in confidence. The Graduate School destroys letters of recommendation after the admission process is completed.

Limits on Recruiting

All formal offers of admission come from the Graduate School in the form of a letter signed by the Dean of the Graduate School. Directors of graduate study and other faculty must be careful not to promise admission, but only to promise that the program will recommend admission to the Graduate School. Generally, the Graduate School accepts the program’s recommendations; but there may be cases where the Graduate School intends to limit the number admitted or where the applicant’s qualifications, particularly English proficiency, may be an issue. The Graduate School also will not matriculate an applicant without official transcripts of previous academic work, without an official TOEFL or IELTS score, or without two of the requested three letters of recommendation, even though the program may be satisfied with fewer or less official documents.

Fellowships, teaching assistantships, proctorships and tuition scholarships are offered by the Graduate School, on recommendations from the graduate programs. No offers of financial support from Graduate School funds can be made by the faculty or directors of graduate study. Departments can offer RA and fellowship support from their own funds, but admission and the appointment are contingent on Graduate School approval.

Brown University subscribes to the policy adopted by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) on a universal deadline of April 15 for responses to offers of admission. It is forbidden to pressure an applicant to respond to an offer before April 15. Nevertheless, it is permissible to ask an applicant to inform us as soon as his or her decision is made. The same CGS policy requires that an applicant who has accepted an offer and then wishes to relinquish it must write to the Graduate School to be released from his or her commitment. Programs recommending offers of admission after April 15 should be aware that such offers are contingent on the applicant’s obtaining a written release from any other graduate school whose offer he or she may have accepted.

Applications

All Ph.D. applicants must take and submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). If an applicant has previously taken the GRE, the scores must be within 5 years of the application.

Privacy of Applications

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that applications be kept confidential. The information in the applications is to be seen only by the faculty admissions committees and support staff and used only for the purpose of admission. Staff and faculty without official connections to the admission process and current students of all types may not read applications or any associated application material.

All materials submitted as part of the application to the Graduate School become the property of the Graduate School. Transcripts and other documents submitted as part of the application will not be returned to applicants or admitted students.

Early Matriculants

If a program wants to bring a new PhD student in before the start of the Fall semester the Graduate School must make a change in Banner to reflect a Summer start, and a minimum of one tuition unit plus relevant fees must be charged.

Advisors and Advising

Selection of Advisor/Mentor

It is the responsibility of the program to ensure that each graduate student should be assigned an advisor upon entering a program and continues to have an advisor at every point until completion of the program. Students also have a responsibility to be proactive in seeking advice from their faculty advisor/mentor, DGS, chair, as well as from their instructors and peers.  

The Graduate School has new mentoring agreements that it encourages students and advisors to use as part of the advising relationship. The document outlining mentoring guidelines and agreements can be found here on the Graduate School website.

First-Year Advising

Each entering student needs to be placed into the available courses that fit the requirements of the program and the student’s personal goals. Those goals may have changed since the student applied, almost a year previously, and care should be taken to see that each student enrolls in the most appropriate courses. Any gaps in preparation should be filled as soon as possible. Courses essential for passing departmental exams should be taken, and plans for meeting language requirements must be begun. Sometimes it is clear to a student after only a few meetings of a course that the course is at the wrong level or its content is not what was expected. Students should be encouraged to seek advice after the first week of classes and revise their registrations appropriately, if necessary. If a student shows any deficiencies at the end of the semester, he or she needs to be told what to do in order to be allowed to continue or to receive financial support for the second year.

The DGS must report to each student in writing before the second semester begins on his or her first semester’s progress and the faculty’s expectations for progress in the second semester. Plans for second semester courses may need revision.

The Graduate Council has ruled that each student should be advised, no later than the end of the third semester, whether he or she should proceed towards the Ph.D., plan to stop with the master’s degree, or plan to leave without a degree.

Student Records

All students now have a Banner record as well as a GSIM (Graduate Student Information System) record. These records should at all times be kept up to date by the DGS. Any change in academic status (especially academic earning, see below) should be recorded in the GSIM record.

GSIM is an online tracking system that allows the Graduate School and individual graduate programs to monitor and predict the progress of all its students. The census information generated by GSIM allows tracking of academic standing and progress (or milestones, which vary by program), funding commitments, and other significant student events (admission to candidacy, leaves, graduation, etc). It also allows programs and the Graduate School to model and predict program-specific and overall student support budgets.

Sample Letters Reporting Student Status

In general, students should be evaluated in terms of their performance and progress in three broad areas: research, coursework, and teaching. However, not all students will necessarily be evaluated in all areas every year, since (for example) coursework may only be relevant during the initial years of a doctoral program and teaching evaluations will only be necessary if students have had appropriate appointments.

Our suggestions for the concluding paragraphs of students’ evaluations are more specific, and in particular provide a progression of warning statements. For those students who are moving briskly through their coursework and research (i.e., are in good standing), a simple endorsement to that effect is sufficient. (“We are satisfied that you are making good progress towards your degree and we applaud your diligence, etc.”) In cases where students are not making good progress, we ask that you use text derived from the following four templates:

Satisfactory

“Generally, faculty members in the program feel that you are making satisfactory progress toward your degree. We also feel, however, that the following areas need improvement, and we encourage you to address these issues before your next review.” (Areas for improvement should follow, articulated as specifically as possible.)

Warning

“Faculty members in the program feel that you are not making adequate progress toward your degree for the following reasons:” (Areas for improvement should follow, articulated as specifically as possible.) “If these issues are not addressed by DATE (within a semester’s time), you will be withdrawn from the graduate program at the end of semester XX of the 20XX-20XX academic year.”

Final Warning Prior to Termination

“Faculty members in the program feel that you are not making sufficient progress to warrant continued study. As stipulated in the Graduate School’s policy for withdrawal of students, you will be withdrawn from our program at the end of semester XX of the 20XX-20XX academic year.”

Termination

“Based on our correspondence of DATE, we have notified the Graduate School that you are to be officially withdrawn from the graduate program at the end of semester XX of the 20XX-20XX academic year.

Changes to the Curriculum

The Graduate Council meets once each month during the academic year to consider proposed changes and to review existing graduate programs. Anyone intending to bring a proposal before the Council is welcome to discuss it first with the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.

New or Revised Graduate Programs

All new programs and any significant revisions to existing programs must be approved by the Graduate Council. New programs approved by the Graduate Council must subsequently be approved by, in turn, the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC), the Faculty as a whole and the Corporation. When a new program will require new financial resources, the Academic Priorities Committee (APC) also must approve before the program can be brought before the Faculty. The same proposal can be pursued with both the APC and the Graduate Council, from the financial and curricular points of views. New graduate programs that also affect the College or the Medical School must also be gain the approval of the Faculty Committee on Educational Legislation.

Generally, only major revisions to existing programs, such as changes in the number of required courses, language requirements, or thesis requirements would need Graduate Council approval. Changes in matters internal to the program, such as changes to the format of prelims or in the mechanism for forming an advisory committee do not need to be brought before the Council. The Graduate School should be notified in writing of any substantive revisions to program handbook. 

Programs are required to give students ample warning of any proposed changes to a program’s requirements or curriculum. Normally students proceed through their degrees with the requirements that were in place when they were admitted. Sometimes, due to staffing changes or other events, there may be slight variations in availability of courses or in the sequence of graduate program. Any substantive change that affects a student’s ability to fulfill requirements must be reviewed by the Graduate Council.

New Graduate Courses

Under a system instituted in the 2011-2012 academic year, new courses in which the primary instructor is a voting faculty members are approved by the Office of the Registrar for a one-year “provisional” period. If that same course is to be offered in any subsequent year, regardless of the voting status of the faculty, the course must go through a full approval process. For graduate (2000-level) courses, this means that a course proposal, including a complete syllabus, must be submitted to the Graduate Council for review. Graduate Council approval of the course proposal is required for course continuation beyond the initial, provisional year.

New courses in which the primary instructor is a non-voting members of the faculty must be fully approved by the Graduate Council on the initial offering.

Guidelines for New Course Syllabi

In order to make the new course approval process as seamless as possible, the Graduate Council offers the following recommendations for constructing a course syllabus and specifies the minimum required elements for a satisfactory syllabus.

Recommendations for Constructing a Syllabus

The syllabus should answer these basic questions for the student:

  • What will I learn?
    This can be addressed by the overarching course description and descriptions of key concepts or topics that will be covered in the course. Essentially, what is the content of the course.
  • Why should I learn it?
    What is the rationale for the course and the topics that will be covered?
  • How will I learn it?
    What are the elements of the course—lectures, group work, field trips, written assignments, etc.—and how will content be delivered?
  •  How will my learning be assessed?
    What are the graded assignments and what are the standards or rubrics that will be used in assessing the various assignments?
  • What is expected of me as a learner?
    What is expected regarding attendance, class discussion, online contribution (e.g., blogs), group work, etc.
  • How will my final course grade be constructed?
    How will the various assessment elements be aggregated into a final grade?

Minimum Required Syllabus Elements

The following are the minimum elements for a satisfactory syllabus:

  • Introductory information including…
    Course title, instructor, and relevant contact information.
  • Course description including…
    • Course overview
    • Course rationale
    • Prerequisites (or statement that there are none)
    • Required texts and/or materials
    • Optional texts and/or materials
    • Class delivery methods
    • Course policies
      • Attendance
      • Participation
      • Late work and make up
      • Student responsibilities
      • Evaluation
        • What types of assessment—papers, presentations, problem sets, projects, exams, etc.
        • How will final grade be determined, and in particular, what will be the weighting given to the various types of assessment?

Note: The following guidelines are strongly recommended.

First, if more than 10-15 percent of the final grade is devoted to “class participation,” the syllabus should include some guidelines as to how “class participation” will be assessed.

Second, if a large percentage of the final grade is devoted to a “course paper,” then the syllabus should indicate what are the interim assessments or feedback opportunities a student can expect on the paper during the semester.

Financial Support for Doctoral Students

The 5-Year Support Guarantee

The 5-year support guarantee for doctoral students places Brown University’s graduate programs in an excellent competitive position. Coupled with support for 4 summers (starting with the cohort that entered in the Fall semester 2010), students can focus on their studies without concern about future funding.

The support guarantee, which applies to all students in good standing, is a promise to the student that is backed by the Graduate School. But it is not a promise to the programs that the Graduate School will provide the support for all students, for the duration of their studies. Instead, programs provide student support through a variety of mechanisms, including departmentally based fellowships and research assistantships that are funded through external grants and contracts. Under normal circumstances, the program has sufficient funding to fulfill the Graduate School’s support promise – either through its annual allocation of support slots from the Graduate School, or through its own resources. On occasion, however, it can happen that departmental resources are insufficient to provide for a student. This might, for example, happen when an investigator experiences a gap in external funding. In such cases, the Graduate School will provide for the support that was promised to the student, in effect serving as a backstop for the department. The Graduate School will recover the cost of the additional support from the program in a future year.

Because of this important function of the Graduate School, Brown’s graduate students enjoy a support guarantee that is primarily met by the department, but that is fully backed by the University. This two-fold assurance allows students to be completely confident about their support as long as they remain in good standing. At the same time, programs can aggressively recruit excellent students because the Graduate School will be there to back them up. Programs are encouraged to clarify the strength of this support mechanism to prospective students as part of the recruitment process.

The Graduate School’s support package should be considered a minimum package. Programs are free to increase funding levels (usually for the summer months), or to make additional promises for support for late-year students as part of the Dissertation Completion Proposal (DCP) process. All such additional promises must be funded through departmental resources. The offer letter of individual programs can be tailored to meet such specific needs. Programs should contact the Dean of the Graduate School to map out an optimal strategy.

Programmatic Support Allocation

The total amount of Graduate School support allocated to a doctoral program is determined primarily by the targeted steady state size (i.e., the total number of students in years one through five) that has been established for that program. For programs that have little or no external funding support available, the total amount of Graduate School support (i.e., the number of supported students) will be about the same as the steady state size: If, due to the statistical nature of the admissions process, in one year a program goes over its targeted size, then the number of admissions will be reduced in the following year to return the program to its steady state.

For programs that provide substantive external support for graduate students, the steady state size of the program will equal the targeted size of the program based solely on Graduate School support plus the number of additional students that can be consistently supported by the program through external funds. If the amount of external funds available to the program increases or declines, then the steady state size of the program will grow or shrink accordingly.

The Graduate School has implemented a financial plan that is available to all individual programs. Upon agreeing to a set of parameters, such as the number of teaching assistantships and the target size of the program, participating programs are given considerable latitude to manage their affairs. For example, programs can decide on the allocation of funds, including distribution of support between the academic year and the summer or allocation of funds to a recruitment budget. Programs are also able to bank graduate student support funds for a future year. Programs who are interested in joining the plan should contact the Dean of the Graduate School for further information.

Admissions Targets and Support for Continuing Students

As part of the process for allocating support to doctoral students, the Graduate School asks program chairs and DGSs for an annual assessment of the progress and academic standing of each of their current students. This annual census is used to determine allocations for support for doctoral students in year 1 through 5. Criteria for timely progress and academic standing of students are set within programs, and are reviewed by the Graduate School.

The annual census also serves as the basis for determining admission targets. For programs that are not participating in the financial plan, the admission targets are determined by the Dean of the Graduate School annually, and communicated to the programs in a memo before the admission decisions are made. Programs that participate in the financial plan should complete a worksheet to communicate to the Dean their proposed admission targets.

Details of the admission process are communicated annually to all programs in a separate memo in late November.

Tuition Charges to Grants and Contracts

Since 1991, all RA appointments to external research grants and contracts are charged at a standard rate of 25% of full tuition. This charge applies for the duration of an RA’s tenure at the University, irrespective of enrollment status.  The Graduate School provides a supplemental tuition scholarship for RAs who have not yet advanced to candidacy.

Commencement

Prizes and Awards

The Wilson-DeBlois Award

The Graduate Student Council confers the Wilson-DeBlois Award annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to graduate students and the Graduate School. The award is presented during the Graduate School Commencement ceremony.

Nominations for the Wilson-DeBlois Award should be made to the Graduate Student Council by February 15th; nominations should be sent to GSC_VPadmin@brown.edu and GSC_Secretary@brown.edu.

Horace Mann Medal

The Horace Mann Medal recognizes a distinguished alumnus or alumna of Brown’s Graduate School. Nominations are sought from graduate programs in early November and the award is conferred at the main Commencement exercises.


[i] As per a decision by the Graduate Council in the October, 2011 meeting.